Where is the Gap?

What exactly is the Gap of the North and why does it matter?

moyrypass Bartlett

There has always been some confusion about its exact location. Older people use the term to refer to the deep glen on the Ballynamadda Road from Dromintee, just south of the junction with the Tievecrom Road, but its proper name is Gleann Dubh. The historical term refers to the road between Faughart Shrine and Kilnasaggart Bridge. It has always been one of the most strategic assets in Ireland for the well-known reason that geography determines history. Here’s why.

In southern England human remains have been found which are 135,000 years old and much older remains have been found elsewhere in Europe. We have nothing like that  – the earliest signs of human presence here date just to 9,500 years ago. The reason is that before that  the ice was a kilometer  deep here. From 100,000 years ago until about 12,000 years ago Ireland was covered by a series of recurring glaciers which moved back and forth across the country grinding everything down to the bedrock and picking up billions of tonnes of rock and gravel and carrying it off to dump elsewhere in the next thaw. Then the ice slowly pulled back northwards but stopped on an east-west line roughly level with us. And then it thawed relatively quickly and dumped out all that rock and gravel in regular heaps. Those heaps are  the drumlins, the litte rounded or elongated hills that you can see around Cullyhanna or Poyntzpass.

The drumlins stretch across the country from Bangor all the way to Mayo. Even today it is difficult to build roads in Drumlin country, as you can see along the A1 from Newry to Loughbrickland. At least we can now cut through them – in past centuries they were too steep to go over and often too boggy in the dips to go around, particularly in the winter months. Through the last 9000 years the drumlins have been a barrier to communications between Ulster and the rest of the country.

There are only two major breaks in the Drumlin belt – around the lakes of Fermanagh and the mountains of South Armagh.  They provied the two major roads north, across the ford on the Erne at Ballyshannon and through the Gap of the North.

In ancient times there were five roads leading from different parts of Ireland to the royal seat at Tara. Our road which started on the North Antrim coast was known as An Sli Miodhluachra. In the Middle Ages the pass was referred to by the Norman English as ‘Imermallane’ which must be an Irish word but the usual Irish term was ‘Bearna Uladh’. It was also known as ‘Bealach an Mhaighre’ (road of the salmon) which may be a shortening of some reference to the Three Mile Water. From that we derive Moyra which is spelt Moyry in many documents.

The Normans arrived in Ireland in 1169 and took the country by storm with vastly superior weaponry and general military skills. The first force had just 200 mounted knights but they were the tanks of their day. More importantly they had 1000 archers who were the machine-gunners – a good archer could have three arrows in the air at the same time. They swept throug the Gap with great slaughter and took the north – but they never had the forces to hold it. Apart from outposts at Carrickfergus, Downpatrick/Lecale, Newry and Carlingford, Ulster remained firmly in Irish hands for another 350 years – until O’Neill pulled out of the pass and headed to defeat at Kinsale.

The old road starts at Dowdalls Hill in Dundalk. There is a little road beside Nicholas Arthur’s shop called Doylesfort Road which leads out through the townlands of Annies and Whitemill and swings right at Faughart Shrine. It then goes into the Gap itself (which was heavily wooded until Mountjoy cut the trees down in 1601) and on to the Three Mile Water, the stream at Kilnasaggart Bridge which was probably wide and boggy and would have been crossed on a kesh (ceis), a causeway made of logs and branches. It followed the line of the Kilnasaggart Road to Baile an Chláir and on down to the Four Mile Water (the Flurry). In Carrickarnon beyond the turn for Edentubber the original road is still there to the left, but where it comes down to the border would have been quite a large bog then, and Elizabethan records refer to a ‘broken causie’ or causeway there, which must have been quite long and was probably more substantial than a kesh. The road is still there all the way to Newtown Cloghogue. From there, according to local belief it may have originally gone over the Bernish to Newry.

The main ambush points against armies invading from the south were at the narrowest point of the Pass between  Slievenabolea to the left (where there is a rockface called Éadan an Airm or hillbrow of the army, where O’Neill’s men may have mustered) and Claret Rock to the right; at the crossing of the Three Mile Water; and on the ‘broken causie’ at Carrickarnon.

Such was the reputation of the Gap that in 1690 King William stayed three days in Newry while patrols scouted up around the area. One patrol was ambushed by the Jacobites in Carrickarnon with substantial losses, but King James’s army made no attempt to block the Pass.

The map below was drawn by the renowned Dundalk historian H.G. Tempest in 1958, partly to settle disputes about where the Gap is.



He explained it like this:

If one stands at the road junction facing St. Brigid’s Stream (A), the “unapproved” road in front of one rises a little, passes on the right the road to Faughart church and graveyard, and continues northward, dropping down into the hollow isolating Faughart Hill, then rising again between Claret Rock on the east and high ground on the west (B) until it comes to the point almost on the modern

“Border” from which it descends rapidly past the shell of Moyry Castle and passes under the railway embankment near Kilnasaggart (C) where runs a stream referred to in the seventeenth century as “the 3 mile water.”

The same road continues northward from that point, rising and winding until, at Jonesboro’ (D), it joins the straight coach road, which falls steeply down to the Half-way House, having crossed the Flurry River, known of old as “the 4 mile water.”

In 1600 this route continued from Flurrybridge until it reached the top of the Newry hill. It is indicated on contemporary maps but not with sufficient definitiveness to make us sure of its exact course. The old maps show two “causies” over boggy or marshy ground. We can assume that it kept as far as possible to the small rises. It is tempting to suppose that it followed the old road more or less parallel to and to the west of the modern county road. A few hundred yards south of the Carrickarnon Frontier Post this suggested road diverges (at E on map) and continues northwards until it reaches the Newry-Dromintee road at Cloghoge (F), Quite close to that point a road continues past Heath Hall and over Ballymacdermott mountain. The old maps rather suggest this route.

If this is so, this road for a mile or two south of point F, must have been considerably straightened since those days. On the map accompanying this article the two ” causies ” are conjecturally marked (6 and 7).

The route from B to D described above was the most difficult part of the old Moyry Pass (or Pace as it was then called) which, at the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth centuries, was the most difficult and dangerous way from Dundalk to Newry and, as such, figures in the attempts by Lord Mountjoy, Queen Elizabeth’s last viceroy, to subdue Hugh O’Neill, ” Earl of Tyrone,” his most skilful and resourceful adversary.

His full article is attached here: TheMoyryPass

We were a Tory stronghold

Words are funny things, they can change meaning in strange ways over the centuries. ‘Tory’ is originally an Irish word and one that is closely associated with South Armagh. It comes from ‘tóraigh’, to pursue – a person who is  ‘tóraighthe’ was, we might say, on the run. It was first used to describe the groups who kept up a rearguard fight at the end of the Cromwellian wars and in the following decades to those same gentlemen when they took to hold-up work on the highways. They were always recognised as very political highwaymen and there were an awful lot of them, particularly in South Armagh. After the Williamite settlement in 1689-91,  our local tories were strong supporters of the Stuart cause. In the 18th century the political faction in London which still hankered after return of the Stuart kings and which evolved into the Conservative Party, were accused by their political enemies, known as the Whigs (later Liberals) of consorting with Irish tories and Scotch cattle raiders. Eventually the Whigs just called them Tories as a term of abuse.

These roving bands of displaced, landless swordsmen were known by different names at different times. After the defeat in Kinsale in 1601 and the Plantation of Ulster in 1609 they were called woodkerne – the kern was the Irish infantry footsoldier and all the Kearneys owe their name to him. Then from 1640 to about 1700 they were tories, and in the Penal Days they were generally called rapparees from the short pike or rapaire that they carried, although the term tory tended to stick in South Armagh long after it had been replaced by rapparee elsewhere.

In the late 1990s a journalist called Toby Harnden wrote a book called ‘Bandit Country’. He took his title from a speech by Labour Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees, who so referred to South Armagh in the mid-1970s. But that wasn’t the first mention, not by a long shot.

Dean Jonathan Swift made very similar comments in the 1740s. He was a constant visitor to Gosford Castle outside Markethill, which is where he wrote ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ and he wrote of his fear of the tories he might meet as he made his way from Dundalk through Silverbridge and Dorsey and on by Ballymoyer to Markethill. And that was with the protection of the most feared tory-hunter of them all, John Johnston – Johnston of the Fews – who claimed to have beheaded over a hundred bandits. Well, he didn’t do his own beheading, he left that job to a turncoat called Owen Keenan from Tullyvallen. In Dorsey, not far from the big house that Johnston called Roxborough after the village his people came from in Scotland, there is a bog called the Tory Hole. Maybe we should dredge it for skulls.


Fifty years ago there was a skipping rhyme used in this area which went:

Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews

Save us from Johnston, king of the Fews”

(The Fews is the barony that runs from the Fane River to the Tully Water, the river that flows through Silverbridge)

But the prize for first mention has to go to our very own St Oliver Plunkett who referred to ‘a country much infested with banditti’. It recurs a number of times in both Italian and Latin in letters he wrote to the Vatican in the 1670s explaining why he didn’t actually live in Armagh even though he was the Archbishop (and took a long time to visit it), but in Termonfeckin.


So we shouldn’t get too uptight about references to bandit country, because the fact is that we have always had more than our fair share of bandits. The very first stagecoach that ever ran from Belfast to Dublin got held up at Flurrybridge.

The best remembered tory must be Redmond O’Hanlon: more at the two links below.





See also the page on Seamas Mor Mac Murchaidh

The man who made Jonesborough

When Moyra Castle was built in 1601, the townlands of Dromintee, Carrickbroad, Faughilotra, Faughiletra and Edenappa ( or Dromentey, Carrickbradagh, Oghillstraght, Foughilletra and Edenknappagh as they were called in a document of the time) were seized and the rental income from the land set aside for the upkeep and garrisoning of ‘Maighre’ castle. Eventually as military needs declined the lands were sold off and in 1706 they came into the hands of a Dublin barrister called Roth Jones. He renamed the very small village of Baile an Chlair in his own honour (although it may have been called Jonestown for the first few years) and began building the fine house which has been allowed to fall into a disgraceful state recently. The Jones landholdings chopped and changed over the years – they expanded into Dromintee townland and his descendants were still major landlords until the Wyndham Land Act of 1903 which got rid of the landlords (for very substantial payments which only ended a few years back).


In 1710 Jones applied to the Crown for a licence to hold a fair to compete with Forkhill which the Jacksons were getting a nice little turn out of – it was a licence to print money as his tenants could hardly go to another fair. It appears to have been a condition of the Jones licence that he should build or at least partly finance a new coach road through Edenappa to Faughart as the old road by the Gap of the North was plagued with highwaymen.


By 1837 as you can see from Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary below, the Jones’s were gone from the Big House, and in their place was Hamilton Skelton. But the Griffiths Valuation lists show they were still the biggest landowner around in the 1860s.


From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

“JONESBOROUGH, a parish, in the barony of UPPER ORIOR, county of ARMAGH, and province of ULSTER, 4 ½ miles (S. W.) from Newry, adjoining the post-town of Flurry-bridge, and containing 1598 inhabitants, of which number, 174 are in the village. According to the Ordnance survey it comprises 2185 ¾ statute acres, including about 700 acres of bog and mountain. Clay-slate and good granite for building are obtained here. The village, which comprises 35 houses, is situated in a mountain pass at the foot of two lofty hills close to the confines of Louth, and was burnt in 1798. Here is a good inn; and a dispensary has been established, which is supported in the usual way. It has much traffic with Newry and Dundalk; and cattle fairs are held on June 4th, Aug. 15th, Oct. 21st, and Dec. 3rd.

Near the village is Jonesborough House, the residence of Hamilton Skelton, Esq.; and the glebe-house, of the Rev. Robert Henry. Here were formerly barracks for the accommodation of a troop of infantry, but the building has been converted into a private residence. The parish was formed out of that of Killevy, or Ballymore, in 1760, and endowed with the tithes and glebe, in 1789, by Primate Robinson. It is a rectory, in the diocese of Armagh, and in the patronage of the Lord-Primate: the tithes amount to £155. There is a glebe-house, which was built by aid of a gift of £450 and a loan of £80, in 1816, from the late Board of First Fruits, and has a glebe of 6a. 3r. 11p. The church is a plain neat building, erected in 1772, consecrated in 1785, and repaired in 1812 by a gift of £400 from the same Board. In the R. C. divisions it forms part of the union or district of Faughart, and has a large handsome chapel in the village. About 100 children are educated in two private schools. A little south of the village stands an upright single stone, with an illegible inscription; and not far distant are the ruins of Moyrath castle, erected in the 17th century to defend the mountain pass.

The burning of the village in 1798 was done by ‘Seaver of the Bog’ and his Killeavy Yeomanry. Jonathan Seaver lived at Heath Hall, which is the castellated building in Ballymacdermot Townland not far from Killeavy football grounds.


Did you know …..?

that the former Parochial House up the fine avenue in the middle of Jonesborough village was the site of a barracks? it is clearly marked on the 1864 Griffiths Valuation map as ‘Old Barrack’. It may have been replaced by the building at Flurrybridge shown as ‘Constabulary Barrack’ (that house is still there). Anyone know the story? Could it have been military, from 1798?

Our thanks to Ryan Morgan who dug this up:



“Jonesborough was originally part of Ballymore Parish. An order
in Council of March 11, 1760 established it as a parish, and Primate Robinson
endowed it with tithes and a glebe. It was enlarged by the addition of
6 townlands in Ballymascanlan on July 6, 1861, by another order in Council.
The church was originally built circa 1732 {Grand Jury Presentments), re-
built 1772 and consecrated in 1785. It was repaired in 1812 at a cost of
£370 — a gift from the Board of First Fruits. It was again repaired in 1863
and rebuilt at the expense of the late Lord Clermont, and opened for worship
on 30 Sep., 1866. Lord Clermont handsomely endowed the parish. The
church was not re-consecrated.

Mr. Kidd in his Survey contributed to Mason (in Shaw Maaon’t
Collection) writes : — ” The barracks where I at present reside by
permission of his Excellency the Lord Lieutenant …. There
is an old Romish chapel unroofed belongmg to the parish . . . but the
priest assembles his flock in the open air, under the ruins of an old building
nearly opposite the barrack gate. . . . There are 7 Protestant families
and 27 respectable (sic) communicants at Christmas [1813].” The latter
were chiefly from neighbouring parishes. Before his institution in 1812,
he says, the church had become a ruin, ” but the Primate put it in order.”
The glebe house was built m 1815 at a cost of £563 Is. 6^., of which £450
was a gift from the Board of First Fruits. The silver chalice and paten
were presented by Captain Macartney Filgate.”

Source: http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/james-b-leslie/armagh-clergy-and-parishes–being-an-account-of-the-clergy-of-the-church-of-ire-lse/page-43-armagh-clergy-and-parishes–being-an-account-of-the-clergy-of-the-church-of-ire-lse.shtml

So Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary confirms there was a military barracks, but is not clear as to where it was. Keep digging.



My father told a story about landlord Jones although whether he is the original one or a descendant I don’t know. Near Dernaroy cross, between the houses of Sean Maginness and Jack (Corney) Murphy there is a loanan leading down into Faughilotra which is known as Morgan’s Pad. In my boyhoood there were still two families called Morgan on it, but once there were Morgans in every farm and house. There is a sharp bend on the lane and after that old walls on the left known as Rosie Morgan’s and that was the first of them. There was once a cobbler who lived there and when Jones was out hunting one day he was caught in a bad shower of rain and his party took shelter in the house. He examined a pair of boots the cobbler was making and asked if he could make another pair for him.

“I could”, says the cobbler, “I’m the best and fastest cobbler in the country.”

“How long will it take you to make me a pair?”

“How long will you be hunting?”

“At least a couple of hours.”

“That’ll do, they will be ready for you.”

“How much will the cost me?”

“Not one penny”, says the cobbler. “Just land – land on a long lease at a good rent. As much as I can run round in half an hour – and maybe I should have told you that I run even faster than I cobble.”

So the deal was done, the boots were ready on time and the cobbler Morgan went out onto the pad and started running towards Moyra castle, leaping ditches as he went. Then he turned left and ran along the stream that flows along the railway towards Brennan’s Corner and cut across Dernaroy we know not where, but Morgans definitely had land to the north (right) of Finnegans Road, which didn’t exist at the time. But he got down to the stream that separates Adavoyle from Dromintee townland and turned south for home with minutes to spare. He made it and that’s why we got so many Morgans on Morgan’s Pad.

UPDATE OCTOBER 2012: Patsy “Roger” Morgan confirms the general story but makes a couple of corrections. It wasn’t Jones who did the deal on the boots, it was his land agent, a man called Gilmore. And the cobbler’s house was not in Rosie Morgan’s which is not old enough, but a couple of fields to the south where visible ruins were recently cleared away.


The bridge on that stream below Jack (Corney) Murphy’s used to be known as Runcan’s Bridge. Any explanations appreciated.

UPDATE OCTOBER 2012: Patsy “Roger” Morgan put me right on that one too. About a hundred years ago the farm where Jack’s house stands was occupied by one Bernard Morgan, who lived for some time in Liverpool and specifically in the district of Runcorn. It seems he talked about Runcorn so much it became his nickname and eventually passed to the bridge.

The field across the road in front of Jack’s is Morgan’s too, and many years ago old Peter Nugent told me that a man was killed in that field during the faction fights after the fall of Parnell.


I know I’m probably going to get into trouble on this one because people can be sensitive, but we have a rich lore and tradition in the family nicknames which must not be lost. As a partial self-protection measure most of the nicknames will not be linked to actual family names except where I am reasonably sure they are all dead or gone or at least not given to taking offence easily.


Family nicknames fall into a number of groups:



This group is the largest by far when an extended family is known by the name of a common ancestor or best-known relative. An example immediately to hand is the Corney Murphys (I feel safe making this exception) descended from or related to the illustrious Cornelius. Patronymics are most needed when there are many families with the same surname. When I was a lad I didn’t actually know that Paddy Nicholas, Owney Thomas and Dinny Oiny were all Murphys.

There was a family at the end of the Adavoyle Road called the Paramore Murphys which sounded quite exotic since paramour is a French word for a high-class courtesan. The true explanation is more prosaic – they were descended from Padraig Mor or Big Paddy.


Trades and skills

The Hacklers combed the retted flax fibres with hackles, blocks of wood with six-inch nails driven through. Mickey Fidge Rice from Dromintee was a fiddle-player (fidleor) descended from fiddlers. Paddy the Racker O’Hare, a most peaceful man, was descended from traditional storytellers and reciters (rachtairi). Benny the Go was a blacksmith (gabh) or descended from blacksmiths. The Connas (my mother tells me) were butchers or sellers of meat (original word in Irish needed please) The process of nickname formation continued into modern times. My favourite of all is the man from Ayallogue who worked for a certain insurance company. He was known as Paddy the Pearl.


Who were known as the Plucks, and why? The answer can be found on page 400 of ‘A Hidden Ulster’ the wonderful book by Padraigin Ni Uallachain of Mullaghbawn.



Here we move into sometimes sensitive territory, but most are straightforward. Duff is black-haired, John the Boy’s people were probably fair-haired (bui), the Bugs were small (beag) and the Bucks were poor (bocht) – and they must have been really poor to get a nickname like that when nobody had tuppence. Paddy Easter (pronounced ayster) got his nickname from some ancestor who lived to be aosta (old).

Revision August 2011: Relatives and friends make a convincing case for the nickname coming from a lady named Esther. This is living history


Some we can only guess at. We don’t actually know how the original Big Mickey (McNally) on the Adavoyle Road got his name. Did the Jinnits (jennit) share the characteristics of the mule? Were the Cracks in Meigh good company? Why is there a family in Ballynamadda known as Dutch? Who was Biddy the Blow and what did she do for a living? Which Edenappa family has Italianate good looks? What about the Whangs, did they make leather bootlaces?


More rare and much more dangerous are nicknames based on odd or outrageous behaviour. There was a man in Forkhill who was known as ‘Dammit-O’ because he said that a lot. There was Paddy Go Easy who always tried to calm people down, and Butcher who intervened in every discussion saying “But, sure….”. I just want to say to all the descendants of Jemmy the Pisser that their secret is safe with me.


Help is needed to get a good list of examples of nicknames and find explanations for them but in the interests of good community relations please don’t post them to the comments box below. Send them to me in confidence at ssmurphy@eircom.net so that I can subject them to stress testing first.

Dig up your ancestors

Everything begins with townlands, the core geogpraphical unit for tracing everything historical because they predate English rule but were continued through the ‘shiring’, the establishment of the counties, and the Plantation of Ulster. If you know what townland your people were in a hundred years ago you can start with the 1911 census. But as you move backwards watch out for changing spellings – Adavoyle, for example, is a particular nightmare. You also need to know that we are in the Barony of Orior (sometimes spelt Orier) and the civil parish or DED (District Electoral Division) of Jonesborough.


Census 1901 and 1911


Click on this link: http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/ and click through as follows:

1911 – Armagh – Jonesborough DED… and pick your townland

The house numbers used by the census enumerators are meaningless and just reflect the order in which they visited houses – the numbers in 1901 are totally different. So if, for example, there are people of the same name all over the place in a townland you have to figure out a couple of families you can identify and then mentally go up and down the different roads. Or else check out everyone of the name until you recognise some forenames which are generally handed down.


Repeat the process for 1901. Look at the original forms as well as the summaries where you can check whether your people were still Irish speakers. There are supplementary forms where, using the house numbers, you can check whether the house was thatched or slated, number of outbuildings and so on. Note also the number of ‘servants’ of very young age. We couldn’t find my granny in Adavoyle but we tracked her to Carrickbroad where she was ‘hired’ at 10 years of age.


Griffiths Valuation 1864

This is an extremely interesting resource which used to be difficult to access but is now available free online. Over a 20-year period every landholding in Ireland was measured and valued with lists showing landlord, tenant, acreage, valuation and so on. Most of this area was done in 1864.


Click on: http://www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation/index.xml?action=placeSearch


Choose Placename Search and enter the name of your townland (you may have to try different spellings – Adavoyle = Aghadavoyle and I remember problems with Edenappa), then select Armagh from the county list – ignore the Barony box. When the new page comes up click on Occupants and then choose Original Form which is a facsimile of the original book page. Find your family and note the holding number in the left column.


Close the list, click back to the Townland page and click on Map View using the larger icon with a cross in it on the right. The numbers in the map plots correspond to the numbers on the list pages.


Tithe applotments 1834

Tithes were taxes which everyone had to pay to the Church of Ireland rector – and yes, that was everyone of every religion until they were abolished abolition of tithes in 1839. There is a list of those paying in 1834 in Edenappa and what must be both Faughilotra and Faughiletra judging by both family names and the sheer number at:


Each name represents a farm or household. This was shortly before the Famine – just look at the sheer numbers on the land.


Tithes were related to farm size and output and were naturally hated by Catholics although I doubt if Protestants were wild about them either. They were collected by a ‘proctor’, a sort of contractor on a percentage. At about this time the Rector of Jonesborough’s proctor was murdered in Faughiletra. A dozen or so men covered in white bedsheets battered him with spades – everyone had to give a wallop so everyone was equally guilty and equally interested in keeping his mouth shut.


Hearth tax rolls 1666

In the 1660s a tax was introduced on every fireplace with or without chimney. In 1666 rolls of heads of household were made out for every townland. The list for Orior Barony doesn’t look complete but some of the local townlands are on it. There seems to have been only one household in all of Adavoyle



Pender Survey 1659

In 1659 a survey was made of residents (as opposed to households) per townland. The information available is partial but it shows that there were 10 people in Dromintee townland, 13 in Faughilotra, 16 in Carrickasticken, 18 in Carrickbroad and precisely 2 in Cloghinny.